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Answering The Atheist
July 4, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 27

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
When did the cursed fig tree die? Immediately (Matthew 21:19-20) or the next morning (Mark 11:13-14, 20-21)? Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
As with many cases, one gospel writer gives more information to us than another. Both Matthew and Mark record the cursing of the tree (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:13-14), and both record the disciples reaction to seeing the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:20; Mark 11:20-21). However, Mark records details which Matthew does not.

The tree had no fruit on it because "it was not the season for figs" (Mark 11:13). As such, perhaps the disciples had walked right by the tree without so much as a look. Mark indicates that the disciples heard Jesus' words (v 14), but did not see the withered tree until the next day (v 20). Between the time of the curse against the tree and the disciples seeing the outcome, they had entered Jerusalem, where Jesus cleansed the Temple.

When did the fig tree die? Immediately, as Matthew said (v 19). It is the questioner's assumption that the disciples also saw the withered tree immediately. Matthew does not distinguish between the day of the curse and the day when the disciples saw the dead tree, but neither does he necessarily infer that the two events happened at the same time. The words "when the disciples saw it" (v 20) do not tell us when. We need to go to Mark's account to determine "when the disciples saw it."

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible & here